The History of Leather Part 14 – Doctor’s Bags

Posted on 23/07/14

Papas got a brand new bag (1900-1950ish)

If you asked celebrated Canadian physician about the role of the doctor at the beginning of the 20th century, and why wouldn’t you, the answer you would get would be “diagnosis, diagnosis and diagnosis”.

The 19th century had seen a number of advances in diagnostic tools, essential tools at that, all of which had to be carried from patient to patient. Doctors’ flowing white coats might not have been quite as swish if they were laden down with majigoscopes and thingomometers, which is where the faithful doctor’s bag came into the picture.

One of the most instantly-recognisable images of doctors and medical care, the doctor’s bag was originally designed for doctors making house calls. In an era of highly contagious diseases and tuberculosis, house calls were essential, and physicians were constantly travelling from house to house.

Doctor’s bags could be remarkably elaborate affairs, folding out into a series of shelves for example, or containing individual leather straps for medicine bottles. Mary Poppins’ doctor’s bag is a different story entirely – the scientific community are still at loggerheads on that logistics of that particular item.

Abraham Verghese M.D., writing for the New York Times revealed a very personal connection with the doctor’s bag in his younger years. For him, the doctor’s bag embodies all the qualities he admires in physicians – good listening, thoroughness and competency. For the average person today, the connotations might be slightly different. A doctor having to make a visit to your house in 2014 is an incredibly rare occurrence, as are doctor’s bags themselves, really.

It’s a shame, in a sense, that a leather accessory that once symbolised the height of medical innovation in diagnosis, would now be a relatively worrying sign. We’re so used to slick doctor’s instruments, and multiple instruments combined into one form factor, that it would be relatively disconcerting to see a doctor arriving with a bulging bag of obscure metal rods and probes.

The doctor’s bag lives on, though. Beginning with Louis Vuitton’s medical bag-inspired design, the “Speedy”, the doctor’s bag was brought down in size and repositioned as a ladies’ bag. Now, even the most high-end of bag designers are carrying their own versions of the doctor’s bag, albeit an easier to carry form of the classic design.

Recent articles